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By: Jesse Stanley

Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Eat Dinner. Watch T.V. Go to bed. Repeat.

This is the picture of many people’s lives. Each day is a boring repeat of the last as if we were stuck in an unexciting version of Groundhog’s Day. Games, however serve to break of the monotony of the day to day and engage a couple in cooperative and competitive play that brings them closer together. It may sound cliché to say a couple that plays together stays together, but more research is proving this is true.

According to research by psychologist Arthur Aron in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology sharing new and exciting activities is associated with better relationships.

Those new and exciting activities are not watching a new movie or burying your face in your smart phone. They are escaping a Forbidden Island with your treasures or getting the Love Letter to the princess.

Further studies done by Drs. Scott Stanley, Howard Markman and Susan Blumberg, of the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies, supports Aron’s research. Markman found the correlation between fun and marital happiness is high and that it was the strongest factor in overall marital happiness.

The stereotype of the boyfriend playing video games all night while the girlfriend becomes a game widow is being shattered and replaced with couples sharing the controller or passing each other the dice. These positive and playful interactions build intimacy and communications skills between couples.

The National Institute for Play says, “Play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship; some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are: humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling , the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies, … These playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy.”

In short, playful relationships are happier relationships. While “play” can find it’s way into all aspects of a relationship, clearly a lighthearted game can feed those interactions.

They go on to also say that removing play from a relationship is like taking oxygen away from someone. It’s not a luxury it’s a necessity. “The relationship becomes a survival endurance contest. Without play skills, the repertoire to deal with inevitable stresses is narrowed. Even if loyalty, responsibility, duty, and steadfastness remain, without playfulness there will be insufficient vitality left over to keep the relationship buoyant and satisfying.”

Change the picture of your life and build intimacy with those you love. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, save a princess, escape from a sinking island and go to bed happier and closer than when you woke up this morning.

 

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2014 was great for family gamers. There were a whole bunch of great games that came out, but 2015 is looking like it might be even better! Below are five of the games I am looking forward to playing this year!

 

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda Wii U

The Legend of Zelda for Wii U is my most anticipated game of 2015!

The release of a Legend of Zelda game is an event. The upcoming release later this year will not only be the first Zelda game on the Wii U, but it will be the first time that a Zelda game will feature an open world. The Wii U gamepad offers a lot of design space for new items so it will be great to see what Nintendo puts into the game by the time it is released.

There is still some doubt that Nintendo will delay it and move it into 2016, but I have faith that it will come out this year.

Mario Maker

mario maker wii u

Making levels for and with my children will be awesome!
Bring it on kids… Daddy’s pretty good at platformers!

2015 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Bros. There are been dozens of games in the series, but Nintendo has always been in the drivers seat on game design. Mario Maker changes things up by giving players the keys and letting them design their own Mario levels using the design aesthetics from multiple Mario games.

The biggest reason I am excited? I canʼt wait to try and run through levels created by my children. That will be a treat.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV

It’s not confirmed yet… but a man can hope. Right?!?!

We may not have an official release date yet, but Square Enix has been releasing information at such a rapid pace recently that I am very hopeful that we will see a release this year.

We also do not have a rating, but Final Fantasy games have had sections that were good to share with your kids in the past. I have great memories of playing some of critter heavy sections of Final Fantasy XIII with my sons. I am hoping that Iʼll be able to do the same with this one.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X for Wii U

Ok.. they are mechs as opposed to robots. But, I love them anyway!

Xenoblade Chronicles was a masterpiece for the Wii. It had one significant flaw though: It looked out of place without HD graphics. The sequel for the Wii U looks like it will fix that.

I also love giant robots and the trailers we have seen so far look like they will bring me a lot of them.

My only concern is that we don’t have a confirmed release date and we still haven’t heard one voice in english. It is only January so Nintendo has a lot of time left to go, but we need to hear something about this one soon or this might end being on my list of games for 2016 instead.

 

Ori and the Blind Forest

ori and the blind forest for Xbox One

This looks like it will be tough, but is beautiful enough for us to push through!

Ori and the Blind Forest was originally supposed to launch in 2014 but was delayed into early 2015. Meaning that is is ALMOST HERE! The launch trailer at last yearʼs E3 was stunning and I cannot wait to share this game with my kids (even if it means we are going to cry together).

Some of the gameplay trailers have led me to believe that this will have some incredibly challenging platforming segments, but I am sure that my boys and I will push through it together.

 

What are you and your family looking to play in 2015? Sound off in the comments!

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published here in 2011. Some of the facts have changed, but I (and others) still struggle with this every day.


World of Warcraft has 11 million + subscribers right now. Every day a group of people three times as large as the state of Connecticut logs onto Blizzard’s servers to wage a virtual war against monsters, raid bosses and each other. Many of those people wage a more personal battle every day with a devil more devious than any heroic raid encounter: Addiction.

This is a battle that I am all too familiar with.

I was an active World of Warcraft subscriber for about 5 years. I raided. I pvped. I leveled four different characters up to the level cap (all of them dwarves). I had become a part of a tight knit guild full of people that I still think of fondly. I don’t regret the fun that I had or the people that I met, but I am happy to finally be able to look back on it.

If you asked me if I was addicted when I was in my prime, I would have told you no. I was “playing a game instead of watching TV”. It was only “a few hours a day.” It was “No big deal.” It was all too easy to conveniently ignore all of the warning signs and forget all of my most inexcusable acts.

Confession time:

  • I used to be proud that I had never called out of work to play WoW. But, taking a “mental health day” and then spending 6 of the 8 hours I would have been at work playing WoW was perfectly ok? Right.
  • I spent time thinking about WoW incessantly, even when I wasn’t playing. I read websites. I talked on forums. My wife knew what boss my raid group was on and what loot drop I wanted from it.
  • When I started to raid I promised my wife that I would never skip a social function to do so. But, I would lose my mind if my wife tried to schedule a dinner with friends on a raid night.
  • I went home from the hospital the night my first child was born to raid. My wife will tell anyone that she wanted me to leave because she wanted sleep, but she was clearly covering for me.
  • During my most “dedicated times” I would play four to five hours a day. Some weeks would be light and I would only play six days out of the week. Do the math with me folks. That adds up to almost thirty hours a week.
  • I still go through almost overwhelming urges to play. I had to uninstall WoW from my laptop to prevent myself from “relapsing.”
  • I don’t like making phone calls. I especially don’t like making phone calls to our telephone/cable/internet provider. I vividly recall being home one day and having our internet black out. I was on the telephone with them for almost an hour. I don’t think I would have called them for any other reason.

If those don’t sound like the habits of an addict, then I don’t know what they sound like.

I know that some of you are might be getting a little critical with me at this point. I’ve heard it before when I bring this up. I am fully aware that the American Medical Association does not currently consider video game addiction to be an official DSM-IV diagnosis. This is clearly documented on the web. The AMA moves slowly on officially declaring something an official diagnosis (which is more than fair), but that does not change what I (and many others) am dealing with.

The Point:

If you are reading this column, then you likely know someone who is dealing with this right now (it might even BE you). I am writing this to encourage everyone to be aware of it. This is a sickness that often goes unnoticed and can cause irreparable harm. I spent so much time plugged in that I almost lost my wife. If it wasn’t for her and some of my closest friends I don’t know if I ever would have pulled myself away. Someone you know might need that kind of help.

There is a full list of symptoms for video game addiction here. I recommend that you take a look at it. It might open your eyes to things that haven’t occurred to you yet.

Each of us bears a responsibility to our friends, our family and to ourselves. Many of us would refuse to stand idly by if our friend was suffering from alcoholism and while we may have trouble seeing the parallels on the surface they are strikingly similar problems. If you see someone that behaves like I did, or fits any of the symptoms listed on that site… you need to talk to them.

I know that I am grateful for the help I was given. I sure your friends will be grateful too.

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Have you ever walked into a living room with no television in it? It’s a little weird, right? I mean, statistically speaking the average American household has more television sets than people living there (according to a 2010 Neilsen report). It’s kind of a crazy statistic, but not one that surprises me.

What’s weird about walking into a living room without one isn’t just the lack of the TV itself. It’s that the entire rest of the room changes: the orientation of the furniture, the focus of the room, the feel of the place. In a traditional TV-set living room, the furniture serves the function; all the seating is arranged so that it’s occupants can face the all-powerful screen. In a TV-less room, that requirement is out the window.

Most traditionally, that means all the seating faces inwards, promoting conversation,socialization, face-to-face interaction with the other occupants. So what does all this talk of living room furniture have to do with gaming? Well, it’s precisely the reason that my family’s Wii is gathering dust while our board game collection grows.

When our family sets up to play a board game, we are typically gathered around the dining room table, face to face. There’s an implied level of socialization there that, no matter how “party” your video game is, just seems to be lacking with that medium. By facing your opponents (or teammates, in a cooperative game) you are experiencing a social connection that a TV screen cannot replicate.

The pacing of board and card games also tends to lend itself to more discussion, and many games are designed with the intent of encouraging conversations. For some of those games, the social aspect is secondary, like a trading mechanic that is part of a game, but not essential, and for others the social aspect is one of the core gameplay mechanics.

So, is it only socially that board games are winning us over? Depending on your perspective, no.

Quintin Smith had a fascinating article on Kotaku several years back (you can read it here) where he touches on the “interference” of technology into the creative process, or what he calls “lossless game design.” He states that, due to the numbers of creators that are needed in a large video game production, the end product is rarely what the creator imagined in their initial designs. For a board game designer, however, the steps from idea to working prototype are far fewer, and the end product less diluted along the way.

We live in a bit of a board game Renaissance. While technology may “burden” the video game creation process, it has been a boon for the board gamers. The rise of online communities such as BoardGameGeek.com has given a platform for discussion and critique of games, as well as providing visibility to those truly innovative or streamlined games that may not have found it to gamer’s tables 30 years ago.

In addition, those communities and other social media platforms have given creators broad access to a pool of play-testers to help them truly refine their gameplay. Print and play distribution over the internet has made it even easier to put games in players’ hands. All of this has contributed to a higher quality and far more accessible market of games that families can bring to the game table.

Now all of this is not to say that video games have no place in our toolkit. There are plenty of skills that video games can help teach, and they provide a level of immersion that few board games could ever match. Additionally, video games tend to allow to quick scaling to number of players – an option that becomes more difficult at the tabletop.

Based on what I’ve seen on social media, it seems the Family Game Night is making a comeback, even among my “non-gamer” friends. There are so many skills that board games teach our kids (A topic we’ll continue to explore in detail through future articles on EFG). It’s exciting to see families leveraging that as a way to interact with their kids on a social level, and we hope you are too. And if the occasional game night is gathered around the TV? So be it – it’s still parents engaging with their kids in a shared activity. And really, that’s first and foremost what it is all about.

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April is National Autism Awareness Month. It is a time when everyone is encouraged to educate themselves about autism and its effects on those that live with it and their families.

A good friend of mine, and mother of two children with autism, has said that if you have met one child with autism, then you have met exactly one child with autism. Each child is so different that it is difficult to predict what will work or what wont. As a result, parents are growing more and more interested in increasing their toolset to help their children adapt, learn, and grow. Research has begun just recently into the controlled use of video games and their therapeutic effects.

Temple Grandin Ph.D, one of the most successful high-functioning autistic persons in the world, has written about video games and their possible advantages.

Some examples:

  • Playing games can help promote pro-social skills like turn taking and sharing
  • Some games can help promote understanding of social cues (especially simulators that involve real life situations as opposed to fantasy such as the Sims).
  • Video game design, criticism, and QA are all valid career paths so encouraging play might help them find a job later in life
  • Fitness/Motion games can help to improve motor skills

Video games also have an advantage over other forms of media in learning because their interactive nature makes them better motivators. Jane McGonigal, a game designer and author, has written that games present vividly clear goals and provide immediate feedback to the player. There is literally nowhere else to have that sort of an unambiguous result. You either jump over the pit or you fall in. You defeat the boss dragon or you don’t.

Grandin, and others, express significant concerns regarding autistic children and addiction to video games. The harsh reality is that they are easy to fixate on and many of them present challenges with no real completion (e.g. Pac Man and other score-chase games or massively multiplayer online games (MMOs)). This is a valid concern, so parents of autistic children should make sure to educate themselves on the games they are playing and how they are played.

The caveat to all of this is that we need to treat video games differently in order for them to be enriching to anyone, autistic or not. Video games are often considered to be a solitary activity. The secret to unlocking their potential is finding ways to make gaming into a social activity and actively engaging with your child.

Editor’s note:

This article is not intended to be treatment advise. I am posting a small number of suggestions pulled from different sources and to illustrate the potential for video games to be a useful tool for parents.

If you are a parent of a child with Autism and need support please seek out your MD. But, if you are in need of support and ideas these are some resources that you can turn to.

Autism-speaks.org

Autism-society.org

Autism With a Side of Fries

Autism With a Glass of Wine

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